Freddy Diaz: distilling passion and pleasure
Freddy Diaz is constantly looking to create new drinks, drawing on his experience in the Americas and the Caribbean, while adding that special personal touch that makes his cocktails unique.
Freddy, tell us a bit about your youth and how you came to be a mixologist.
I was born in Cuba and, when I was almost four years old in 1980, my family left the island in what became known as the Mariel Exodus. At that time, 125,000 Cubans, considered as undesirables, were allowed to leave from the port of Mariel to go to Florida. My uncle rented a boat in Key West and took us to Miami. I remember people throwing bottles and rocks at us and calling us names. Sometimes, I wonder whether the bottles and rocks were what unconsciously made me want to be a bartender (smile). Also, my grandfather made his own fruit brandy in Cuba. My parents always supported me and my father, who was an architect and draftsman, inspired me to be precise and to always seek a perfect balance.
How did you learn the business?
I began by doing promotions when I was 18, which also has an indirect relation to my roots since I worked for the main Cuban rum brand that left the country after Castro came to power. I’ve got to admit that some of my reasons for becoming a bartender weren’t that great. I wasn’t really interested in school, I basically wanted to party and thought it was really cool to flip bottles and put on a show. That said, I got to travel a lot, got some good training and, very early on, wanted to become an entrepreneur. I loved competitions and was lucky enough to be hired by a very good bar in Connecticut where I began to really understand what high-level mixing was all about. By the age of 23, I partnered in my first consulting firm and became co-owner of my first bar by the age of 26.
So, what’s the best part of the job?
At a very basic level, it’s the pleasure of putting a smile on someone’s face, finding out what they like and then mixing something creative that delights them. The next level of satisfaction is to go beyond traditional bartending and to create crafted cocktails, which can be compared to what has happened in cooking over the centuries, with the development of gastronomy. The real takeoff to bring the craft of bartending one step higher began for me in 2005 in Miami Beach, happening at a five-star five-diamond establishment. We very quickly had three top-notch bartenders serving incredibly creative drinks to people six-deep at the bar, including celebrities and trendsetters.
So then, what makes mixology different from bartending?
I know this interview is being published in Les vergers Boiron’s newsletter, but quite honestly, the starting point is to use quality products, for both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic ingredients. The next essential part of the recipe is to create a balance between sweet, sour, bitter, fruitiness, etc. You therefore need consistent ingredients that guarantee you find that exact balance every time. Once again, that’s one of Les vergers Boirons’ strong points: you can always count on their Brix level (sugar content) being right for each fruit. Next, you need to understand what your customer likes and the style of cocktail he or she appreciates. You have to cater to their taste, but surprise them at the same time, with an unexpected twist. For me, the key is to stimulate all five senses, to create a totally satisfying experience. Then, of course, there’s the question of whether you stir or shake. Only James Bond asks to have his martinis shaken. I would never challenge him on that!
So, what are your favorite drinks?
I make a lot of Floradora cocktails, where I use raspberry purée, with gin, lime juice, simple sugar, bitters and ginger ale or ginger beer, depending on the spiciness and sweetness people prefer. The Corpse Reviver #2 is another of my favorite cocktails, made with gin, Cointreau, Lillet, lemon, and kissed with absinthe. I use Les vergers Boiron lemon purée for that one because they use lemons sourced in Sicily, among the best in the world, which is probably what brings the Corpse Reviver #2 to life. I’ve also developed a South-East Asian style cocktail called Butterflies & Unicorns that uses coconut and butterfly pea flowers, that changes colors in the water when you add citruses. In any case, what I love is to constantly create new recipes with as many different inspirations as possible. I sincerely want to thank Les vergers Boiron, which believed in the cocktail industry from the very start, and gave me all the support I needed. Also, they keep coming up with great new products. Being one of their Brand Ambassadors today is a great boost to my AlambiQ consultancy and we have a truly reciprocal relationship. It’s the perfect mix!